In 2020, Mike Wood won three NCHA World Championships -- including the Open title with Dawn Chapman's Little Jackson Cat. • Photo by Mia Webster.

After Dream Year, Trainer Mike Wood Looks to 2021

Mike Wood accomplished a dazzling feat of three National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) World Titles in 2020. The Scottsdale, Arizona trainer credited his strong support system, solid horses and competition mindset for his success.  

The accolades from 2020 – which saw Wood named the winner of the prestigious Bill Freeman Award in addition to winning Open, $5,000 Novice Horse and $25,000 Novice Horse world championships – was admittedly a bit overwhelming for the trainer.

And, it’s not something he plans to try to dupiclate in 2021.

“Our plan is to back off a little bit and our goal isn’t to go win the World in classes [this year],” said Wood, who has lifetime earnings of more than $2.3 million. “We’re just going to plan on being competitive and show where we want to go show.”

So far, that plan has Wood in the Top 15 NCHA World Standings with a few horses. He said that although he and his non-pro clients don’t plan on hitting the road as hard as they did last year while hauling for titles, they still will be out at shows — because that’s where they really want to be.

“We love cutting and we want to go cut,” Wood said.

The Big Year

Wood, who annually contends in Open World Championship classes and frequently has non-pro and amateur riders who also chase World titles, is one of the cutting trainers who seems to excel in the art of hauling for the year-end World championship races. 

NCHA World championships go to the horse or rider, depending on the class, who earns the most point in a division throughout the year. The top 15 horses or riders in each division qualify for the NCHA World Finals, which are held in conjunction with the NCHA Futurity.

Wood’s program is aimed at managing horses in a way to keep them fit, fresh and happy throughout the entire year. As a result, it isn’t unusual for him to win both the NCHA World Finals Show Championship and also the cumulative NCHA World title in the same class.

The universe offered some foreshadowing of the 2020 NCHA World Finals in the form of Wood being awarded the 2020 NCHA Bill Freeman award for pursuit of excellence in the cutting pen. The award, which alternates between a non-pro and trainer, was presented to Wood during the 2020 NCHA Futurity.

Wood said Bill Freeman Award win validated him, while giving a boost of confidence ahead of the 2020 NCHA World Finals – which are the culmination of the World championship races and are held in conjunction with the NCHA Futurity show. 

“Going into the Finals I had the $5,000 Novice Horse won [with Crispy Kreme]. The other two I was sitting second. I was going to do the best I could. In the $25,000 Novice horse I thought I had a pretty decent shot at winning,” Wood said.

For some, the pressure of those titles being within reach would have been unnerving but Wood maintains a ‘do the best you can with what you’ve got’ outlook on competition. 

One consistent finals later and Wood had the $25,000 Novice Horse won with Christine King’s Peeptos Cat (Cat Ichi x Little Bow Peepto x Peptoboonsmal). Next up was the Open World Championship, which was stacked with tough competition including Pedel To The Medall and Ascencion Banuelos. 

“I wasn’t even considering winning the Open. My friends were saying ‘Just think if you win the Open.’ And I said ‘I’m not going to think like that, I’m just going to do the best I can, do my job, and see what happens.’ That was my mentality,” Wood said.

Wood and Little Jackson Cat (High Brow Cat x Rey To Play x Dual Rey) laid down a stunning Open finals run with two cattle cut. Wood recalled it being so loud in the Watt Arena he could hardly hear his help yelling the time left. He scored a 231, and won the World Championship title with $52,464 earned throughout the year on the mare owned by Dawn Chapman.

Chapman also owned Crispy Kreme, the horse Wood rode to the $5,000 Novice Horse World Championship earlier in the show.

 “At the end of 2020, it felt great,” Wood said. “We didn’t set out to win the two Novice classes and the Open. Our goal was to do the best we could and sometimes things fall into place.”

Future Success

Looking back, Wood said the success of 2020 showed him that all the time and effort that he, his crew, and business manager and life partner Roper Curtiss put into the business really does pay off.

“I feel like Roper and I’ve worked very hard. I mean, we get up in the morning, we’re at the show, and we’ll work 30 horses between 5:30 (a.m.) and eight o’clock,” he said. “We work very hard at it.”

Wood explained that his goals in the show pen are cutting clean, showing smart and avoiding misses. According to Wood, things fall apart because people put too much pressure on themselves. 

For a non-pro or amateur looking to improve, Wood suggests concentrating on what you can improve with your horse and break the goals into parts. 

“Ask for advice. Ask you trainer, friends, ask other trainers. Don’t just get a lesson, ask ‘what can I improve on and how can I improve on that?’ and work on that. Try to be a little more consistent,” Wood said.